You could say Sue Bird’s been on a 20-year win streak. She’s won two NCAA championships and a national player of the year award as a point guard at the University of Connecticut. She was a WNBA first-round draft selection of the Seattle Storm who’s become an 11-time WNBA All-Star, and three-time WNBA champion. You can also add five EuroLeague titles and four Olympic gold medals to her career ledger. Off the court, she’s one half of a sports “power couple” with U.S. Women’s soccer icon and 2019 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Megan Rapinoe.
Now at age 39, Bird is pushing to return to form for what could be a “last ride” in a hall-of-fame career in 2020. She seeks to bring a fourth WNBA Championship to the Storm, and win a fifth Olympic gold medal for Team USA at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
She’s also looking ahead to adding one more title in the future — mom.
This week in the Washington Post, she openly discussed that future. While rehabbing a knee injury that kept her out the 2019 season, Bird decided to freeze her eggs and enhance her options to start a family after she retires. She noted her relationship with Rapinoe was a catalyst.
“I think being in a relationship changes your mind-set on it,” Bird told the Washington Post. ”It’s hard to picture (life with children) when you’re both professional athletes. But that’s when it became like: ‘Wait a minute. Shouldn’t we take the steps to have the option, if down the road we decided we do want kids?’ It’s so hard to imagine how that fits into our lives — we know what life is like now; we can’t even have a goldfish right now!”
Such a decision is one that a growing number of women in varied professions are looking at. What often stymies the decision is the cost of the means of storage and insemination. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, women spend roughly $30,000 to $40,000 on freezing and storing their eggs. That hefty price tag also collides with the lack of insurance coverage for the procedure. Currently around 34% of employers cover egg freezing and storage in their health care plans. The current health plan within the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement with its players does not cover elective egg freezing.
The current climate in women’s sports drives the conversation. Such discussions occur in the locker room alongside concerns about salaries, mental health and working conditions that are main contentions in the ongoing negotiations between the league and the union, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. December 31st is the deadline for the negotiations.
“As an athlete, this is a big thing. Straight, gay, doesn’t matter. Your career is your body, and you need to keep your options open, in terms of starting a family,” Bird told the Post. “Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the world of female sports and specifically in the WNBA because we have our CBA [collective bargaining agreement] coming up. Just to be a pioneer in that category, it would be great for a women’s league to start talking about these things, to maybe have these options for athletes.”
Bird’s decision has influenced a next-generation star. Storm teammate Breanna Stewart. The league’s MVP in 2018, who was also shelved due to injury last season, followed Bird example in freezing her eggs. Bird regrets not taking action at age 25 like Stewart has. Younger patients tend to yield better results overall.
“I have the options that I have these eggs further down the line, because I don’t plan on missing a significant amount of time.” Stewart told the Post, noting a schedule that includes the coming Olympics and a contract with the team overseas. “I was like, alright, let me do something that looks toward my future. Now I don’t have to worry about playing year-round or going overseas, getting lost in my work.”